Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Rioja Wine Region

July 7 -  Wine Tours in Rioja

On Wednesday, after a superb breakfast at our inn, we drove to the nearby town of Briones where the bodega Dinastia Vivanco has a wine museum.  It’s an amazing museum, in that it details the entire history of wine, the process of wine making and all its related functions, such as the making of barrels, bottles, corks and even cork screws. It took us a full two hours to get through it (at a quick pace). Afterwards, we took a tour of the Vivanco Winery, which was good yet disappointing, in that it was all in Spanish.

When we got back to our winery/hotel, Jesus Puelles, the owner, was ready to give us a personal tour of the winery - in English. The Puelles winery dates back to the early 1800’s and, though not nearly as big as Vivanco, it’s impressive. They follow organic vineyard practices in growing their (mostly Tempranillo) grapes. They only use estate grown grapes in their wines and produce about 200,000 bottles a year.

Jesus told us that in Rioja, wineries typically produce a crianza, a reserve and grand reserve. Mostly all are made of Tempranillo. Other red varietals grown in Rioja are Grenache, Mazuela and Graciano. White varietals are Viura and Xarello.The Rioja DOC controls these types of wines by mandating them to be aged as follows: a crianza must be aged in oak for one year; a reserve must be aged in oak for two years and bottle aged for one year; and the grand reserve must be aged in oak for three years and bottle aged for an additional two years. A little different from what we do in California where the winery may tell the prospective buyer to age the wine for a year or two before opening the wine.

One of the ways Jesus sells his wine is through his wine club. Members pay as the wine is made. First they pay up front for the cost of a barrel, then pay for the grapes, lastly for the bottles. In the end, a member gets 300 bottles of wine for about $3 per bottle. Not a bad deal for a good quality wine. But you have to like Tempranillo.

Later that evening, we watched more world football (soccer) action - Spain against Germany. To us it seemed like a pretty even game, not many fouls, played in a very gentlemanly manner. In the second half, Spain got a break and from a corner kick, headed the ball in for a goal to win the game. It will now be Spain and the Netherlands - and we’ll be in the Netherlands for the title game!!!          

After our two-day stay at Bodega Puelles, we reluctantly packed our suitcases and hit the road. We visited, Laguardia, an ancient walled city known for its many underground (cave) bodegas and spectacular views of the area and the Pyrenees. We only stayed for a short time. 

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